Mysterious Mysteries of Mystery
Last week we wrapped up our first theme unit in our reading series. Each theme has a special feature at the end with a focus on different genres that we don’t normally get to in the reader. Our first genre focus was on mysteries. We started reading mysteries on Monday and have continued each day. The students have worked in small groups to come up with outlines of mysteries, have read different mystery stories each day, and, of course, they have identified and discussed the different elements found in a mystery.
I knew I was going to be observed by my principal this morning and I was excited to share what we were doing with our unit on mysteries. For a few years now, I have been reading online about using “mentor texts” when teaching writing. The concept is fairly simple: before students begin writing their own narratives, they need an example to follow. A mentor text is a professionally-published story that exemplifies the genre or style of writing being taught.
I decided it was finally time to try using a mentor text in my class. Because I had no idea where to start on my own, I turned to the vast network on teachers who blog to find a mentor text that would be appropriate for my class. A quick Google search of the blogs suggested that I use the book Grandpa’s Teeth to get started. I had no idea if I could access a copy in time for my observation, but I decided to see if my school library had it by chance.
Have I ever mentioned how wonderful our library and librarian are? Not only did we have the book, but I was able to send a student with the name of it to the librarian and she quickly found the copy, checked it out to me, and had the student deliver it. I was thrilled!
I started the lesson today by reviewing the elements of a mystery story (investigator, suspects, mystery, clues, distractions, setting, and solution) and then shared the story with the class. We talked about the importance of noticing all of the details, both in the text and in the pictures. Several students guessed the solution before we got to the end as they noticed some details in the pictures that were actually clues. (I’m not going to give away the ending, though, in case you plan on reading Grandpa’s Teeth on your own.)
Then the students returned to their seats and I gave them a mystery graphic organiser from ReadWriteThink.org (of course). We followed the organiser and came up with a model story. The students selected each of the elements and came up with an outline for a story that would be quite fun to write! It was about a kitten at a pound that was missing and a cat was investigating the case. One of the dogs and the gardener were the suspects, but it turned out that it was the cat all along who hid the kitten!
The rest of the morning was spent writing their own mysteries, using the organiser I had given them and starting on their first drafts. Some students had already written a rough draft and were working on the second one, or were reading a classmate’s story to provide peer-editing. We had a full 45 minutes in the room during which all twenty-three of my students was focused on a literacy assignment. It was awesome. And we’ve got some great mysteries being written in my room!